Very basic newbie question: Chronic insomnia, micronaps during meditation

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This topic contains 12 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  Will 5 years, 7 months ago.

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    I am new to the community and I hope I am not posting in the wrong forum or violating any guidelines.

    I have an extremely basic question: How to prevent micronaps during meditation given my chronic insomnia.

    My chronic insomnia partly due to anxiety and partly due to circadian rhythm problems.

    The deep exhaustion I regularly feel during the day means that I often repeatedly nod off, and repeatedly awake with a brief head bob during meditation. This can happen many dozens of times in the first 20 minutes of a 45 minute session and then I feel more wakeful during the latter half of the meditation, probably because the aggregate effect of all the micronaps adds up to a very brief nap, which gives me a respite from exhaustion.

    However, this is a huge problem for my circadian rhythm if I meditate late in the day, because all those micronaps adding up to a brief nap exacerbates my circadian rhythm problem. From experience it is definitely the case with me that even a brief nap in the afternoon or evening will result in extreme wakefulness in the early hours of the morning, and conversely if I force myself not to nap/micronap in the afternoon or evening then I am much less likely to be wakeful in the early hours of the morning.

    Note that when I wake in the early hours, mindfulness, meditation, cognitive diffusion, body scans, yoga nidra, sleep stories, etc can often calm me somewhat but don’t reliably put me to sleep (I also have severe ADD which makes it harder to use those techniques, especially when extremely tired). I am convinced a regular meditation practice will make a huge difference to my baseline levels of anxiety (and lessen the effects of my ADD) making it less likely that I will wake up in the night, and if I do, that it will be easier to calm my mind and go back to sleep.

    (I should mention I have made a massive investment of time and effort into sleep hygiene, cognitive therapy, sleep medication, anti-anxiety medication, and my insomnia is still chronic. I have bad side-effects to every sleep medication and herbal sleep aid I have tried, unfortunately).

    I can hack the problem of nodding off when meditating to an extent by meditating after I’ve just gotten up, which means:

    a) I’m less likely to be chronically tired, and

    b) if I do repeatedly nod off it’s close enough in the circadian cycle to when I was asleep anyway so it doesn’t make a lot of difference.

    But for practical reasons, for example accommodating my schedule, being able to meditate multiple times per day, and being able to meditate closer to the time I go to bed to calm my anxiety, it would be very useful to be able to meditate at times when I am chronically tired, including the late afternoon and evening.

    In short, any tips or tricks for meditating when exhausted, and maintaining focus without nodding off would be much appreciated.




    I never had such a difficulty directly but the times I went through periods of lack of sleep, what helped me was multiple “micro” practices. Sitting 5 or 10 min with clarity, stopping before nodding off and then to repeat it later in the day. It was more energy management than anything, and later I was able to increase the time.

    I don’t have much more to offer than that, seeing you already deal with sleep hygiene. Only thing I didn’t see in your post is about physical exercise. For years I was working on the night shift and the only thing that allowed me to get some sleep was enough exercise.

    Hope it will help you,



    Many thanks for the reply, I will try doing multiple shorter meditations and gradually increasing the duration.

    I forgot to mention in my original post I exercise quite hard 6 days a week and I used to exercise in the AM but that tended to cause a crash 4-5 hours later, so now I exercise at 4 or 5 pm in order to time the crash for when I go to sleep. Unfortunately my problem is not going to sleep, but staying asleep!



    I probably also should have mentioned for context I never have caffeine, chocolate, or alcohol, all of which I cut out due to them exacerbating insomnia.


    Salina D

    Hi Tim!

    I think Frédéric’s suggestion is a good one. You might also consider trying standing or walking meditation in the evening, if you haven’t already. It’s a bit more difficult to nod off with those. 🙂 There are some basic directions for walking meditation in the TMI book – Appendix A.

    Hope that helps!


    Dharma Treasure Teacher in Training


    Julian S

    Hi Tim,

    I would agree with Frederic and Salina. I just wanted to chime in with a message of solidarity. I too have ADD and my sleep patterns are pretty delicate to say the least. Insomnia for me tends to be the same as it is for you: waking in the early hours and having difficulty going back to sleep. I can empathise with the irony of knowing that practices such as yoga nidra or body scanning will help, but finding the mind unable to settle into them due to tiredness or the time of night. It sounds like you are doing all the right things. I like to remind myself that, even though sleep is elusive at times, I am probably saving myself worse sleep / ADD symptoms by all the work I do to manage it. In my own experience, samatha-vipassana can also help subside the intensity ADD, sleep and anxiety disturbances, but it’s a long-term game.

    A couple more things to try if you haven’t already:

    • maybe combine Salina and Frederic’s advice and do a couple of short sits with walking meditation in between? I learned this method from Nick Grabovac and it helps me for periods of strong dullness. I usually go with a ten minute sit, then straight into a five or ten minute walk, and then another ten to fifteen minute sit. You can repeat that pattern twice for a one hour session.
    • just in case you haven’t already tried them I can anecdotally attest (with no professional qualifications or ability to recommend them whatsoever in your particular case) that 5-HTP, a high dose of magnesium citrate and regular Vitamin D supplementation helps me. But it all depends on your tolerance of course.
    • another thing I can suggest as a yoga teacher is legs up the wall pose, which I frequently fall back on when nothing else helps. My partner has become accustomed to me lying sideways in bed with my feet up the wall at 4am 🙂

    Finally, let me ask what the quality of your attention is like in the tail end of each sit, when you feel more wakeful? How much gross / subtle distraction is present during those times? Do you have an idea of which of the ten stages you tend to gravitate towards?

    I hope that some of this helps.

    Best of luck with your practice,

    Dharma Treasure Teacher in Training



    Hi Tim,

    It sounds like you have gotten quite good advice from the other folks. Personally, I use standing meditation when I want less sensory input than with walking, but I cannot stay awake. I have found it quite effective, and often use it at the end of the day if I am quite tired, but still want to practice. I keep my knees very slightly bent, and my eyes open with an unfocused gaze. It takes some getting used to, but can be quite comfortable after a bit of practice.

    I wonder if that would help you get through the first part of your practice, and enable you to sit for the remaining part, where it seems like you can stay awake.

    Kim (Teacher in training)



    Many thanks for all the advice! I’m not sure how to reply to specific people via this site, when I clicked ‘reply’ next to a specific post it looked like I was just replying to the whole thread, so I’m going to consolidate replies:

    @Salina D, @kimw, I will definitely try standing and walking meditation.

    @kimw, many thanks for the tips about standing meditation! I am pretty sure that it is the micronaps that tend to occur in the first part of the meditation that are making the second half more wakeful, but I could try the first half being standing or walking and then the second half of the practice being sitting and see if it helps. But even if I have to stand or walk for the whole practice it would still be great to have that as an option when I’m super tired.

    @ Julian S, I appreciate knowing I’m not the only one suffering from this! For the times when I am extremely tired I think it would lead to nodding off if I do a couple of short sits with walking meditation in between although that definitely sounds like something that would be helpful to work towards. I do take daily vitamin D supplements, I will re-start my 5-HTP and L-Tryptophan (I let those slide during a particularly bad period of my insomnia where they didn’t seem to help, but it’s worth a try to restart them). Unfortunately, and very annoyingly, Magnesium Citrate helps me sleep but gives me gastric trouble, so I can only take very occasionally, definitely not night after night. The quality of my attention in the latter part of my sit because it tends to vary a lot, sometimes distraction is gross, sometimes subtle. Regarding which level I’m at, I have not yet read TMI (my copy just showed up) but I think I’m at level 2, I have established a practice and I am working on extending my periods of attention.

    I really appreciate all the input, many thanks!

    • This reply was modified 5 years, 7 months ago by  Tim.

    Kim L

    Hi Tim,

    I wanted to comment on your trouble sleeping and just make some minor recommendations.
    You already said you have spent much time and money researching this but there’s a video by Shinzen Young on youtube about having ‘a good nights rest’ that I wanted to link here for you. I’m having some problems doing so on this forum, but you can easily find the video I believe. It helped me change my attitude towards sleep and has been very helpful.

    In that same vein I would like to recommend the practices from the book ‘The Awakening Body’ by Reggie Ray. In it a practice is described which is called ‘whole body breathing’ (it is a bit different from the whole body breathing in TMI though), he also presents a modified version of the practice that can be used at night when one cannot sleep. The practice comes down to resting deeper and deeper in the somatic awareness of the body which is supposed to bring about a deep state of rest and rejuvenation even if sleep remains elusive. This program has one develop greater and greater somatic awareness, in the course of which one becomes able to scan the body in great detail, looking for places that are highly exhausted even though other parts of the body may be very awake and the mind active. One can learn to rest the awareness in these places of the body and go to sleep even though other parts of the soma aren’t tired. This practice is also described briefly in that book. It will take time to develop the capacity to do this though.

    Just a couple of recommendations that might be of some help to you.


    • This reply was modified 5 years, 7 months ago by  Kim L.
    • This reply was modified 5 years, 7 months ago by  Kim L.
    • This reply was modified 5 years, 7 months ago by  Kim L.


    @Kim L, I really appreciate the info, I will check out the Shinzen Young video and the Reggie Ray book, many, many thanks!



    Hi Tim,

    I know I’m a bit late to the party here, but I couldn’t resist replying since like some of the others, I can strongly relate to what you’re going through, having suffered insomnia (the kind that can get to sleep but can’t stay asleep) on and off for the last 6 or so years. I’ve tried loads of things and feel like I have a lot of experience with working with the problem.

    I wanted to echo the other great advice here, around exercise, around the right supplements and the right attitude to them (I would add that occasional low dose melatonin for streak breaking, since it’s non addictive, should be ok sometimes too), and also meditation practices that can be done in bed. And if there are obvious causes to the insomnia or anxiety in your life, trying to work skilfully with those can help too. So it seems like those topics have been super well covered.

    I wanted to touch on another aspect that really helped me a lot for me and shortened the “streak length” of my own insomnia. It’s great to have sleep hygiene, the right sleep meds, exercise and meditation routines etc. However, for me having this attitude of desperation at keeping all of those balls in the air was a big part of what stopped me sleeping at night. For a while I was using the “Headspace” meditation app, which has a Sleep Pack which I’ve now done 3 times. I’m not saying you should necessarily get that app, but the main crux of that pack was that cultivating the right mentality towards sleep during the day will help your sleep at night. There is this kind of paradox compromise between good sleep habits whilst at the same time, try not to care so much about sleep or those habits, that sleep isn’t such a big deal. If you’re anything like I was, when you hear that advice your response might be like “yeah right, that’s easy to say, but that doesn’t help me when I’m lying in bed stressed and agitated”. However there is some wisdom in this: the paradox is that if you can truly not care or stress about getting a good nights’ sleep, the body and mind can eventually find and stay in a restful place.

    How does this translate to practice? Cultivate gentle mindfulness during the day, keep an attitude of softness to your sleep / exercise routine, know that lying in bed awake but relaxed is 80%+ restorative as real sleep, that when you’re restless or agitated you can try to practice on that knowing that it’s ok that your mind doesn’t play along as well as it does during the day, and that in the long term you are able to kind of condition or “brainwash” yourself, over time, to care less about a bad sleep, and that this paradoxically can help you sleep/rest better.

    Hope that helps, and happy to help any time.

    -Will (Teacher in Training since Jan 2018)

    • This reply was modified 5 years, 7 months ago by  Will.


    @will, I really appreciate this reply and my apologies for the incredible tardiness of my response. I thought I had responded but now I come back to this thread to give further feedback I see I did not. Maybe I did not press submit?

    Anyway, I wanted to say a heartfelt thankyou, and to let you know, and anyone else reading this thread, how extremely helpful the sleep module of the headspace app has been. I haven’t even quite finished it yet but I am already seeing improvements, and I assume I will be doing the course multiple times. It’s really useful to have that as a tool in my practice and it is useful in shifting my attitude to being less anxious about the insomnia itself.

    I’ve also been using all the suggestions on except GHB (which unfortunately I don’t have access to) and chamomile tea (which gives me acid reflux) which has been helpful. I have to be super careful to use small amounts of brain octane oil which is basically MCT oil otherwise I get stomach problems.

    I have also been tracking my sleep via the Fitbit app in conjunction with my Fitbit Charge2 – it seems to track my sleep more accurately than the Sleep Cycle app which works really poorly on my new phone (a samsung S8+, it used to work fine on my samsung S4).

    The big benefit of the Fitbit setup is that gives you stats on how much REM, light and deep sleep etc you are getting and compares it to benchmarks of folks your age. This is helpful because I noticed that I get about half as much REM sleep than people my age generally get and I also noticed that on days that I am more tired I have gotten less REM sleep and on days when I am less tired I got more REM sleep. So I decided REM sleep was key for me.

    This led me to investigating how to increase REM sleep and per I tried the Fisher Wallace Stimulator. I was initially extremely skeptical and concerned about messing with my brainwaves but it has made an immediate improvement to my REM sleep and it doesn’t seem to do any harm.

    I don’t think there is one silver bullet for me but I really appreciate all these suggestions. Slowly my sleep, and attitude to my sleep, is improving and I am having more consistently productive days as a result.



    Wonderful to hear you’re having some progress Tim!

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